OAKLAND (AP) — Mike Fiers and his Oakland Athletics might have reason to be downright mad.
They won 97 games each of the past two seasons to finish as the second-place team in the AL West behind the Houston Astros, whom Fiers called out in November in a story by The Athletic for a sign-stealing scheme that led to season-long MLB suspensions for Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. The Astros then fired both. Fiers said the team had used a camera in center field to steal signs.
Alex Cora was dismissed by the Boston Red Sox after Commissioner Rob Manfred identified him as “an active participant” in the cheating scandal as then-Astros bench coach. Cora led Boston to a title the following year, in 2018.
The Mets also cut ties with manager Carlos Beltrán, who played for the Astros in 2017. Hired this offseason, Beltrán was let go before ever managing a game for New York.
A’s manager Bob Melvin and teammates applauded Fiers.
“As time goes on, he’ll be revered for doing this, for making the game a better place,” Melvin said.
Fiers insisted at Fan Fest that he is moving forward, declining to address anything regarding what he did by speaking out or even his role cleaning up the sport.
He said he owes that to his teammates.
“I want them to be ready for the season,” Fiers said. “For me it’s all about getting ready for the season, playing baseball and not being a distraction to this team.”
Shortstop Marcus Semien will look to build momentum from a career season that included being top three in the AL MVP voting. He was rewarded with a new $13 million, one-year contract to avoid arbitration, a raise of $7.1 million.
The As are the last ones standing — in Oakland, that is. The Raiders will play in Las Vegas beginning next season while the Golden State Warriors are playing their first season across the bay in San Francisco.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are a pair of top-prospect lefties who could crack the rotation this season, though Luzardo also showed his value as a versatile reliever.
Neither has made a big league start but were impressive down the stretch in August and September.
Luzardo returned from strains to his rotator cuff and lat to make six appearances with a 1.50 ERA and a pair of saves over 12 innings.
Puk went 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA over 10 outings and 11 1/3 innings.
The A’s have few holes and plenty of reliable sluggers: Khris Davis, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Mark Canha, Semien.
The club hit a franchise-record 257 home runs this season.
Semien played all 162 games for the first time in 2019 to help the A’s earn the AL’s top wild card. He put up several personal bests: 33 homers and 92 RBIs while hitting .285.
Fiers is coming off a career year at 15-4 and pitched his second career no-hitter May 7 against the Reds. He posted a 3.90 ERA over 33 starts and his most innings yet at 184 2/3.
Still, lefty Sean Manaea was chosen to start the AL wild card loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland’s second straight loss in the game after the Yankees eliminated the A’s in 2018.
Second base is still to be determined, though newcomer and left-handed hitter Tony Kemp will have a chance to play the position more regularly as long as all goes well at spring training.
“When you have this young a team and to have so many positions already filled, it’s a luxury to only have to worry about one or two positions, so we’re in a good place,” Melvin said.
Davis will be determined to bounce back from a down year, while closer Liam Hendriks is committed to showing his breakout season in the ninth inning “wasn’t a fluke.”
Davis led the majors in home runs with 48 in 2018 then hit just 23 last season. He batted a career-low .220 and drove in just 73 runs following four straight seasons in which he hit .247 and three in a row with 40-plus homers.
The A’s will host the Minnesota Twins to begin the season March 26, but it’s the next series that should be far more intriguing: Houston comes to town March 30 for the Astros’ first road game.